AAH-194 Visual Culture in Communist China

A Union College Art History Course, Spring 2023

Author: Victoria Davison

Feng Zikai Exhibition Theme

Feng Zikai was an influential artist spanning from 1898 to 1975. Feng Zikai was well known for his cartoons focused on the message of innocence. His work took traditional Chinese ink techniques to create easy to interpret works that would be enjoyable to viewers of any age.  Feng Zikai created comics during eras of political conflicts, such as the Sino-Japanese war of 1937-1945, and the Chinese Civil War of 1945-1949. With times of intense political conflict such as these, artists were limited in their creative liberty. Many popular well-accepted works of this period followed certain guidelines and political propaganda messages. Feng Zikai focused on his messages of innocence and the image of children instead of creating overly political comics which had set him apart from other artists of this time. Feng Zikai was a father, and it was no secret that his own children had served as an inspiration for his works. The familial ties that he held to his subjects allowed for his work to be even more intimate. Today, Feng Zikai’s art is praised for being some of the first children’s illustrations while also providing beautiful messages of innocence that everyone could hold onto.

For my exhibition, I wanted to focus on one of the most prominent and important themes that Feng Zikai had repeatedly used. The imagery of children and the metaphor for innocence is important in much of Feng Zikai’s works, and for my exhibit I would like to honor that. I would like to display some of his most impactful works with the imagery of children used in it, such as “Broken Heart” and the “Education” series that he had created. I found the way that Feng Zikai used symbolism was beautiful and perfectly captured the essence of childhood and humility. These two works capture the imagination and the weight of emotion that a child understands more than an adult. In “Education No 2” the child is seen pretending to have a bike with fan plants. The child seems content and fulfilled despite the simplicity of their belongings. On the other hand, the child in “Broken Heart” is shown in distress due to a broken toy. This image is a large contrast to the political setting that Feng Zikai had been in as he worked on this image. His works feel light and gentle, and with my exhibit I would like to reflect that. The aspect of innocence was more powerful than politics in Feng Zikai’s work, and the exhibition would reflect that as well.


Left: “Broken Heart”, 1926          Right: “Education No 2” 1927


Hung, Chang-Tai. “The Fuming Image: Cartoons and Public Opinion in Late Republican China, 1945 to 1949.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36, no. 1 (1994): 122–45. http://www.jstor.org/stable/179329.

Laureillard, Marie. Regret of spring: The child according to Feng Zikai. 2014.
Accessed April 20, 2023. https://hal.science/hal-00983929/document.


Feng Zikai Interesting Link


This website is conducted by the University of California Press and discusses key highlights of Feng Zikai’s history. They also show some of his works that follow the timeline of his history. They go into depth about Feng Zikai’s historical context, and his frustration with his work. He had made many different types of work, and the website goes into depth about how these different types of work had made him feel and caused himself new challenges.


University of California Press. “War and Peace in the Cartoons of Feng Zikai.”
News release. 1982-2004. https://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/

“Valuable Spring (Youth)” – Feng Zikai

Feng Zikai’s “Valuable Spring (Youth)” is a beautifully composed ink painting on paper. Feng Zikai created lighthearted imagery of youth and children throughout his career from 1898-1975. These images all shared the simplistic but intentionally brushstroke style as seen above. This image was part of a series of many other springtime images where children and youth play and appreciate nature. Feng Zikai, titled the “artist of children” (Laureillard 2014: 47) frequently spoke about the importance of looking at the innocence of children as the proper way to live, stating that “they should be a source of inspiration for a better world.” (Laureillard 2014: 57).

“Valuable Spring (Youth)” utilizes simplistic brushstrokes to create whimsical characters that seem to capture the innocence of children and their view of the world. His caricatures would not hold much detail, but enough to convey the emotions of childlike joy. Feng Zikai depicts a young boy and girl, watering a growing tree with leaves gently blowing in the breeze. His brushstrokes are placed in a way that creates a natural movement that seems to perfectly represent the trees swaying in the breeze. The children are tending and nurturing the growing tree, and are shown to have gentle and upbeat expressions. They are also working together to complete the task of watering the young tree, which ties this image’s story together. There is an innocent connection between the figures, using their strength to enhance the world with nature. This image uses the concept of rebirth and nativity to make a statement about how we as people should be able to connect to nature and our childhood joy.

Feng Zikai had felt that innocence was lost as children grew up, and corruption would take that place. He believed that adults should view the world as a playground, a marvelous world to discover and kindle, just as children do. He also attempts to bring Buddhist ideology into his work instead of heavily political topics. Rather than creating works circling politics, he created works like these to display the meaning of being human. He depicts the connection between nature and humanity, creating imagery that was able to be enjoyed by a vast quantity of Chinese people, and ultimately stays relevant today.


Image source:



Laureillard, Marie. Regret of spring: The child according to Feng Zikai. 2014.
Accessed April 20, 2023. https://hal.science/hal-00983929/document.

Feng Zikai

Feng Zikai – China Online Museum

Feng Zikai was an influential painter and illustrator from 1898, until 1975. He was a modern artist who dabbled in a few different areas of media, from painting to music, Feng Zikai was a multi-talented man. He learned painting and music from Li Shutong and founded the Shanghai Vocational Normal School with fellow classmates in 1919.

Later in his career, Feng traveled to Japan in 1921 to continue his studies. Feng’s style consists of simplistic cartoons with an innocent tone. He had a focus on ancient poems and children’s life, which is represented within his artwork. He created comics which had first published in a magazine in 1924.

Feng was a part of many important organizations during his time, including the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), he also served as the vice-chairman of the Shanghai Federation of Literacy and Art Circles and held the same position for the Shanghai branch of the China Artists Association.


Works Cited:

The Award and Feng Zikai. Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award,

“People Sitting Under the Old Tree.” Google Arts & Culture,

Victoria Davison

Hello! My name is Victoria Davison, I’m a Studio Fine Arts major! In the picture with me is my puppy named Lilly. I’ve always been interested in Asian culture and arts, leading to this class. I look forward to learning more about the arts and history of China as I am more versed in Japanese arts and culture. In my free time, I enjoy making digital art, playing video games, and listening to music. Some of my top interests right now are The Last of Us, The Mandalorian, Hozier, and Fall Out Boy.

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